How Do They Get Away With It?

Just before Christmas I was interviewed on LBC Radio’s Drivetime programme by Iain Dale about the acquittal of the Grillo sisters in the fraud trial. The focus at the trial and in the media afterwards was not on whether the defendants had stolen £665,000 from their former employers, but on Nigella’s less than Goddess like domestic circumstances, as well as receiving high-profile support mid-trial from the Prime Minister. As you will recall the Grillo sisters were acquitted of any wrongdoing.

To be fair to Iain Dale, the interview wasn’t about Lawson’s drug taking or her clearly very unhappy marriage, but on how employees could steal such vast sums from their employers without them noticing. As Dale asked me, how could they have got away with it? Was there smoke without fire? After all, if someone stole more (much more) than the value of the average house from you, you would notice, wouldn’t you? I might not notice a fiver or a tenner going astray, but £600k? And where do multi-milllionaires keep their small change: behind the back of the sofa, or in the biscuit tin in the cupboard or maybe under that loose floorboard in the spare bedroom?

Even if the money was racked up on credit cards you would think twice wouldn’t you? “Wow, Christmas WAS expensive this year wasn’t it? I know the Xbox One cost a lot but £600,000? We must have taken the kids to McDonalds too often”. It doesn’t make sense to the person of ordinary means and that was my answer. People on ordinary incomes can’t understand it, but the Saatchi-Lawsons were not of ordinary means. They were filthy rich and £665,000 probably has as much significance for them as, say £6 or £60 would to you or me. How the other .5% live, or something.

Dale then asked if this sort of thing went on often. Employers being defrauded of money by their employees. Of course it does and probably never comes to light in most situations because the employers are too nervous of looking stupid or careless. Almost two years ago there was also the case of the City banker accused of stealing £1.4mn from his employers, who then were alleged not to have wanted to co-operate with a Police prosecution, meaning he walked away “scot-free”. Nagging away at the back of my mind are a couple of cases involving wealthy City bankers who didn’t notice their personal assistant dipping lavishly into their income but I can’t find the links on Google. However, it’s a problem which does not only afflict wealthy individuals employing domestic help. More amazingly, to my mind, is the story of the Solihull solicitors, taken for a ride by their cashier, who stole £1.7mn from them over a seven year period to fund a share in a racehorse, a lease of a pub, luxury holidays, fast cars and luxury holidays. She said she had a wealthy husband; he thought she had a high paid job (in fact they paid her £24,000 p.a). She was trusted by everyone and that is how she got away with it.

If in the midst of the bleakest weather of the most depressing week of the most miserable month of the year ripping your employers off for a Range Rover and a holiday somewhere hot and dry appeals, think again: she was sentenced to five years in prison and her husband divorced her.

And at the heart of all these cases is to things: 1. breach of trust and 2. The usual thinking that such things only happen to other people. That is how these crimes occur and why sentences in criminal courts tend to be so heavy, especially for those in a position of trust.

How do employers protect themselves against fraud? Have proper procedures in place to govern financial affairs, conduct regular reviews and ensure that one person does not have complete control over the finances. And get very suspicious if your cashier wears hand-made suits, drives an Aston Martin and holidays in the Caribbean.

Michael Scutt, Employment Solicitor 

Employment solicitor with Crane and Staples, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Blogger & writer. I like cycling, cricket, football and history.